Sunday, April 01, 2007

The Duncan family connection to Slaughterhouse-Five

My family owns about 80 acres of woodland in Saluda County, S.C., acreage on which -- I grew up being told -- U.S. Army troops performed battlefield maneuvers as part of their training before being shipped overseas in World War II. The cabin used as a command headquarters was still standing in my youth, and we'd stay in it for a week or more each summer.

I thought of this a couple of weeks ago, as I was reading Kurt Vonnegut's brilliant novel Slaughterhouse-Five. (And yes, James Morrow was right to ask me, when he saw it in my hand: "Do you mean you're just now reading Slaughterhouse-Five?") Vonnegut's protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, is trained as a chaplain's assistant during the war (which is to say, he is wholly untrained during the war), and at one point he is on maneuvers with his unit in South Carolina. This is from Chapter 2, Page 31 of the 1991 Dell paperback edition:
It was Sunday morning. Billy and his chaplain had gathered a congregation of about fifty soldiers on a Carolina hillside. An umpire appeared. There were umpires everywhere, men who said who was winning or losing the theoretical battle, who was alive and who was dead.

The umpire had comical news. The congregation had been theoretically spotted from the air by a theoretical enemy. They were all theoretically dead now. The theoretical corpses laughed and ate a hearty noontime meal.

Remembering this incident years later, Billy was struck by what a Trafalmadorian adventure with death that had been, to be dead and to eat at the same time.
It was a Trafalmadorian adventure, of course, because the Trafalmadorians -- the aliens who abduct Billy later on -- experience all events simultaneously: "All moments, past, present, and future, always have existed, always will exist" (Ch. 2, Page 27). Anyway, I decided, reading this brief scene, that the otherwise unidentified Carolina hillside was on the Duncan farm in Saluda County, S.C. I have no evidence for it, but I'm convinced of it all the same.


TN-Tanuki said...

Hey Andy, I'm sure you already know this:

So it Goes.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Andy.
K.V. died last night.
April 11, 2007
Don't miss Mother Night
Hugs to Sydney
Patrick O